Today marks 32 years since she came here. Next week marks 10 years since she left.
I wasn’t well at the time; I had just been diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was consumed with dread and fear. I was withdrawn and afraid to my core. At the time, I kept saying how much I wanted to go home. I wanted to be with Jesus more than anything. But it wasn’t my turn yet. It was hers.
That night I was home alone with my parents. The landline rang; I answered. It was my brother’s best friend, who was also my best friend’s brother. He asked to speak to my dad. As I waited, my dad’s face became somber and his voice slowed. He hung up and told me we needed to pray. She’d had a heart attack. Soon after, my parents went to her house to wait with her siblings. I wasn’t keen to be left behind. On the way, I asked my parents if she was going to die. They said they didn’t know. I still can’t travel that route without thinking of that night. So I don’t. I quickly got rid of the clothes I was wearing then, too. Somethings are just too much.
We got there just moments after her dad had come home with the news. I remember, clear as a cloudless sky, running from the car and up their walk. My friend’s brother was on the doorstep; he told me she was gone in an empty, shocked voice. I remember hugging him powerlessly, and so very briefly, before the sound of my friend’s screaming cut into my consciousness. Without words, I hurried by him. I don’t remember falling, but I remember sitting with her on a foyer floor I knew so well. I don’t remember starting to cry but I remember the wetness of our shared tears. I don’t remember saying anything, but I remember her words—words too sacred to share. I don’t remember how long we were there, but I remember our dads tenderly pulling us to our feet so she could go to the hospital—to say goodbye. It was a whirlwind, a tempest, a crash that will never, ever get out of my soul.
When we got home, my dad took me for a walk to work the shock out of my bones. He told me about Heaven and what we knew of it. I’ll never forget the way my imagination filled with her homecoming. That dark walk was my lighthouse in the advancing flood of saltwater.
The night got late. My sister learned her childhood best friend was gone; her soaring panic was choked out by a disorienting daze. She came home as a shadowy, numb version of herself. My brother fairly flew over the highway to reach friends who were, one by one, crumbling to the earth. Eventually we all gathered, scores of friends and family, in her home. The tears were innumerable, the anguish palpable, the shock heavy. There are so many words I heard and so many moments I watched that night that have settled into me. Some of them are drenched in radiant love and some are a heaviness in my stomach. In either case, I’m their new home and I don’t want to lose them—even the weighty ones.
In the next weeks many things happened; some were extraordinary and some were extraordinary in their ordinariness. I sat on their driveway, warmed by the sun, in quiet process with my dear friend. I talked—and laughed—in their kitchen with friends of my siblings. I received calls, visits, and prayers from people who loved me, many of whom hadn’t known her. I stood on a stage with my friend as she spoke of her sister; I looked out on an overfull room and was drowned in a family of love. I wept as my sister led the heartsick in worship at a memorial she’d never planned on. I joined the many who contributed artful love, gathered by my brother and gifted to her family. I looked on as men I loved, old friends, held each other, sobbing and grieving a gut-wrenching grief. I ran out of tears over and over and over again. I was changed forever as I witnessed the breaking, mourning, and transforming of my friends, my community, my family.
Set your sails upon the mighty winds of May. Set your sails upon the hope of June. Set your sails upon the air of warm July. Set your course for Heaven’s shore.FUTURE OF FORESTRY
You know, one of the suggestions mental health professionals give a person with depression is to look beyond the self. In volunteering, helping, and getting involved in something else, the self-inwardness of depression is bumped to the backseat. That night, and in the coming months, she handed me the most solemn opportunity to do just that. As I talked with my best friend for hours, as I witnessed and carried the grief of my family, as my whole life came into an eternal perspective, I crawled from under the crushing depths of despair. She gave me the parting gift of ethereal fresh air.
As her sun lowered into the earth, the Son simultaneously broke over me. He met me in a way that he never had before. He set about healing wounds that predated her departure. The year to follow was one of restoration, renewal, and rebirth. Her death was the peak of my midnight mountain and the catalyst of my conversion. On her foyer floor, I was stripped of my last shreds of self-sufficiency. There, there was nothing I could do for my friend, or for me, but to let it happen—to let the sorrow pour on in. That moment of inadequacy, my loathed foe, volun-told me to lay down my attempts at self-survival. With nothing left to stand on, that ground became my soil and sure footing as I grew and stumbled out of my night.
We don’t always get such real moments that found our transformations. We experience a lot of pain in life, but not all of it is so acute. Terrible and traumatic as it was, I honour that night, her family, and her life as essential to my identity. I recognize my experience of the tragedy—and make no mistake: it was a tragedy—as my Father working glory from agony. In great communal suffering, my own misery snuck off like a failed thief. With no salvation to be found elsewhere, I ran into his arms—tripping over my own feet and sobbing all the way. There was no dignity left, only wild desperation. I needed him like never before and it was, I think, the first time in my life that Jesus became really real. That night, sheer pain jolted me from apathy, desolation, and preoccupied anxiety. I came back to his blinding light, victorious life, and boundless love. There was so much left to do before it was my turn to go home, he reminded me.
So, though the sentiment is much too little, thank you, Jess. Thank you for flinging light into my life and shining for me—for us—on our journey home. Happy birthday.